Next in my series of reviews of cookbooks for children are two Betty Crocker cookbooks: Betty Crocker’s Cookbook for Boys & Girls (1957, available from Archive.org https://archive.org/details/bettycrockerscoo00croc) and Betty Crocker’s New Cookbook for Boys & Girls (1965). These two books were published by General Mills as part of their long history of creating cookbooks to help sell General Mills products and teach America how to cook.
Like Things to Cook (1951), the two Betty Crocker cookbooks for boys and girls attempt to be inclusive of both boys and girls. Both books begin with a page devoted to their “Home Testers”. A small sketch of each child involved in the project is accompanied by a quote. From these quotes, it is apparent that the children took their role very seriously. A girl named Elizabeth proclaims, “All those recipes sound like a lot of work. But we loved it,” and Ricky states “We always said what we thought, even if it wasn’t complementary.”
Both of these books contain some interesting gender dynamics. Both boys and girls participated as testers for both books. In the 1957 book, there are 12 testers, eight girls and four boys. The 1965 book had 13 testers, eight girls and five boys. While the ratio of boys to girls was certainly not equal, I appreciated that the publishers attempted to demonstrate that cooking is not just for girls. Indeed, throughout both books, girls and boys are featured in the illustrations accompanying the recipes; however, one interesting thing to note is that only boys/men wear chef hats in the earlier book. In Betty Crocker’s Cookbook for Boys & Girls, a boy is wearing a chef’s hat on the title page and on page 87, and on pages 123 and 186, an adult male chefs are pictured wearing a chef hats. No girls or women are shown wearing chef hats. We can’t know if this was a deliberate choice, but this omission implies that only boys can grow up to be professional chefs; whereas, girls are mostly suited to be home cooks.
This issue of representation is improved in the second book in which a boy and two girls are shown wearing chef hats. The boy, pictured on the front cover, is wearing a white chef hat while proudly presenting a chocolate-frosted cake to a girl and young boy who gaze at him in amazement. On the back cover is a girl wearing a red chef hat; this image is replicated on the interior of the book as well. The girl in this picture is more passive than the boy on the cover. She’s surrounded by cooking supplies as she reads from a cookbook. On page 26, another girl is shown wearing a chef hat. In this case, the chef hat is white and she is carrying a plate full of streusel-topped rolls. While the placement of the pictures is not ideal representation of the potential of female chefs – they boy wearing the chef’s hat is on the front cover after all – it is definitely an improvement over the earlier books.
Also remarkable is that boys are the only ones pictured cooking outside of the house in both books. Boys cook on grills and over fires, but girls do not. Girls are shown eating outside, but the food appears to have been prepared inside and brought outside.
The parents are also treated differently according to their gender. While this isn’t particularly abnormal for the time period, there is a sense in both books that the kitchen was the mother’s realm. In the section titled “before you start to cook”, the first direction is “Choose a time to suit your mother, so you won’t be in her way.” The quotes from the children reinforced this sense that the kitchen belongs to the mother: “We always left the kitchen clean. Then Mother liked to have us help” and “We learned to use the pots and pans that our mothers have in their kitchens.” The father is not a presence in the kitchen. In the 1957 book, the word “dad” appears seven times, and each of these mentions is in reference to his birthday. By contrast, mom/mother/mama are used 13 times, mostly in reference to her domain in the kitchen.
Sample menus are provided for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in the 1965 book, but there’s something a little unequal about the menus. Father gets oven-fried drumsticks. Mother gets SPAM a can of “pork luncheon meat” which has been flavored with clove-studded pineapple slices and brown sugar. The labor division is also unequal. For the Feast for Father, the child is directed to “switch jobs with Mother and let her be your assistant for such a special occasion. She’ll be happy to set the table, make the coffee, and give any other help needed” (141). On Mother’s Day, however, the father’s tasks are much less arduous: “Dad can pitch in to make the coffee” (142).
The recipes in both books are well written; although, they do seem to be a bit on the bland side. Both cookbooks have recipes for chili, but neither seem particularly spicy even though the 1965 book bumps up the spice level from one teaspoon of chili powder to two teaspoons. The majority of the recipes call for shortcuts, such as Bisquick, Betty Crocker Cake Mixes, and canned soups. That’s not surprising at all since Betty Crocker’s brand is built on convenience.
Some additional things that stick out: the hamburger recipes call for evaporated milk (ew) and there are remarkably few chicken recipes. There is only one recipe that calls for chicken in the book from 1957, and that chicken comes in the form of condensed chicken and rice soup from a can. In the later book there are only two chicken recipes, Creamy-Chicken Vegetable Soup (made by combining canned soups) and Oven-Fried Drumsticks.
Unlike Things to Cook (1951) both books have a rather substantial section on safety. Children are advised to “Ask mother before you use a sharp knife, can opener, or electric mixer.” Aside from standard cooking tasks: chopping, slicing, cooking on the stove, and pulling hot baking sheets from the oven, most of the recipes are fairly safe. One recipe calls for the use of a double boiler, which is slightly risky because of the hot steam, but none of the recipes require deep frying or working with molten sugar.
Finally, another major difference between the earlier book and the latter is the addition of a page devoted to nutrition. The page, titled “Foods you need- every day”, is very brief. It lists four food groups and how many servings are recommended per day. The book recommends 2 or more servings of meats; however, meats is a misleading term since it lists not only poultry and fish but also eggs, dried beans/peas, and peanut butter. Four or more servings of vegetables and fruits are also recommended, but the book gets a little more specific; it recommends one citrus fruit daily and one dark green or yellow vegetable every other day. Milk recommendations vary by age, as children are directed to drink more milk than adults. Four servings of whole grain, enriched, restored, or fortified breads and cereals are recommended daily. Finally, the reader is directed, “And don’t forget fats, sweets and extra servings from these four groups – they provide additional food energy and other food values.
Compared to today’s dietary recommendations, there isn’t all that much difference between what Betty Crocker and My Plate’s recommendations, aside from specificity. My Plate separates fruits and vegetables into two categories and has recommendations for different categories of vegetable, for example orange/red vegetables, starchy vegetables, dark green vegetables, etc. The other major difference is that sweets are not recommended as part of My Plate because in this scheme they are only supposed to be an occasional treat rather than a major fuel source.
For the next few posts, I’m going to be reviewing cookbooks for children. I’ve managed to collect quite a few in my travels, and I’m interested in seeing how they’ve evolved over time. I’ll be looking at the types of recipes in the books, the complexity of those recipes, how the information is delivered, and whether the books provide any extra information like how to set the table, safety, or etiquette.
The first book I’m looking at is Cook Book: A Picture Cook Book for Children by Helen Jill Fletcher. Curiously, the title on the title page reads “Things to Cook” instead of using the title on the cover. This book was published in 1951 as part of a series of books for this age group published by Paxton-Slade in the early 50s.
Written for children ages 7-12, the pages of this book are rather thick and coarse, like the pages of a child’s coloring book. There are step-by-step illustrations for each recipe; however, some of the illustrations are a little unclear without reading the accompanying text.
After the title page and table of contents is a section titled “What we must know about measurements”. The pages show some tips for accurate measuring; for example, it instructs children to measure dry ingredients before measuring liquids or fats and to butter the measuring cup to keep molasses from sticking. Next is a page of measurement equivalents and a chart explaining temperature equivalents to subjective oven temperatures. The chart shows that a slow oven equates to a 250-325 degree oven. A moderate oven is 325-400 degrees. While the terms “slow oven,” “hot oven,” and “very hot oven” are rarely used any more, I have seen them in a lot of older cookbooks. This cookbook was published at a time when people were transitioning from wood and coal fired ovens to ones with more accurate temperature controls. I’m guessing that the inclusion of subjective temperature equivalents was to help make the book accessible to those without temperature controls on their ovens or to help kids learn how to read older cookbooks.
Next is a primer on basic cooking skills. They review a few common skills needed to complete the recipes, including: creaming butter and sugar, beating, separating egg whites, chopping, dicing, and cutting. Then there’s a section on how to set a table, and some suggested menus.
The recipes are fairly kid friendly with no complicated or rare ingredients. Most recipes have between four and six ingredients. The most complicated recipes are the gingerbread men which calls for 11 ingredients. The recipes to lean a bit on the sweet side. Half of the recipes are baked goods, sweetened beverages, or sweet snacks. The rest are kid friendly appetizers, entrees, salads, snacks, and side dishes. Oddly, none of the recipes contain chicken. This is probably because chicken was expensive for most people until battery farming became more prevalent in the 70s and 80s.
This book attempts to be inclusive of both boys and girls. Each recipe is given either a boy’s name or a girl’s name. Thirteen of the recipes are associated with girl’s names and twelve with boy’s names. I tried to discern whether there was some sort of pattern to the naming of the recipes, but aside from things with wieners named for boys (Billy’s Franks and Beans and Wimpy’s Bacon-Wiener) and Hector’s He-Man Hamburgers, there really isn’t a pattern. There are salads, desserts, and vegetable dishes all with boys’ and girls’ names.
One thing that sets this book apart from other children’s cookbooks in my collection is that there is absolutely nothing about safety. At the very least, most books will have a section at the front warning kids that ovens are hot and that knives are sharp, but this book has nothing.
To see if there is anything truly hazardous in this book and to create a baseline for other books, I compiled a list of activities that I think can be particularly hazardous for children in the kitchen: deep-frying, pan-frying, making candy with super-hot sugar, using sharp implements, using beaters/mixers/blenders, and using a double boiler. I didn’t include things like boiling water or taking hot pans from the oven because they are pretty much standard when cooking; although, I imagine they are the cause of most kitchen-related emergency room visits for children. Keeping this list in mind, I found that most of the recipes in this book are fairly innocuous. There are a few recipes that require a double boiler and most recipes require cutting or chopping, but other than that there isn’t really anything dangerous. I still find it odd that there isn’t anything about kitchen safety in the book.
Most of the children’s cookbooks I’ve seen from the mid-century forward contain a recipe for hamburgers. This recipe seems more like a meatloaf than what I think of as a hamburger. It calls for ground beef, egg, breadcrumbs, catsup, salt, and cooking fat.
The directions to make this merry-go-round cake are in the book as well. It has a plain yellow cake for the base. The animals are animal crackers, candy sticks are used as the uprights, and the canopy is paper cut into a circle with a radial slit so it can be shaped into a cone. Making decorative cakes seems to be a mainstay of cookbooks for this age group.
Not all of the illustrations are clear. It took me forever to understand that the top picture is a scrub brush cleaning a potato. I though it was an amoeba on a stick. This is page is from the recipe for potato boats, essentially twice-baked potatoes.
Before I begin, I have to say that I have an obsession with recipe card libraries. At this point, I have 10 different card indexes, and I love looking through all of the pictures of the dishes and reading the recipes. Most of the card libraries I own are from the 1970s, but I have one from the 1950s and a couple from the 1980s too. These recipe card libraries are great because they offer a lot of variety for home chefs. They are all organized thematically. Some, like Cookindex, are organized by ingredient. Others, like the Betty Crocker Recipe Card Library, are organized by occasion (outdoor cooking, just for kids, tea time, etc). Most of them have a few international dishes, as well as entrees, appetizers, side dishes, and desserts.
The card library that I’m reviewing today is the Better Homes and Gardens Recipe Card Library published by the Meredith Corporation in 1978. Better Homes and Gardens is the fourth best-selling magazine in the United States. It is the flagship magazine of the Meredith Corporation which was founded in 1922 by Edwin Meredith, US Secretary of Agriculture from 1920-1921 under Woodrow Wilson. The magazine is a monthly periodical that specializes in information about homes, cooking, gardening, entertaining, and crafts.
There have been at least three recipe card indexes published under the Better Homes and Gardens brand. The others include a diet recipe card library (I’m working on adding this to my collection) and one dedicated to microwave cooking. Both were published in the late 1980s.
The 1978 recipe card library came in a large plastic container with a hinged lid that opens lengthwise. The most common colors for the cases seem to be white and yellow, but I have seen a couple of red and avocado green cases as well. There are 39 sections to the card library with 17 cards apiece for a whopping total of 663 cards! Each section is differentiated by a numbered divider card which stands a half inch taller than the recipe cards. As is standard for this type of card library, the divider cards have cooking tips on the back. The recipe cards are lettered from A to P and have a color photograph on the front with one or two recipes on the back. The set also includes a card index and a series of booklets with meal planning suggestions and cooking tips. The box is absolutely packed. I’m missing the recipe index and I can’t see how it would fit in the box.
In many ways, my podcast and blog are a love letter to the creators of recipe card libraries. I was inspired to start this project after I purchased the Betty Crocker Recipe Card Library because I wanted some sort of reason to try cooking some of the recipes.
Some of the recipes may seem appalling to modern tastes, but there is a certain charm to them. These card indexes harken back to a different time. It was a time when there weren’t Mexican and Chinese restaurants in every town and city, let alone Ethiopian and Venezuelan. It was also a changing time when more married women were working outside of the home than ever before, but they were still largely expected to do a majority of the cooking and cleaning. These recipes represent a desire for balance. Rather than every recipe being cooked from scratch, we see a lot of time-saving shortcuts. The Skillet Enchiladas call for cream of mushroom soup, canned enchilada sauce, and canned chili peppers rather than fresh tomatoes and chilies. Canned salmon is used in the place of fresh salmon in many recipes. At the same time, there’s a surprising amount of care written into these recipes. The tops of the Harlequin Sandwiches are decorated with sliced pimiento, and the Della Robbia Wreath Salad is lovingly decorated with cream cheese and frosted grapes so that it looks almost too precious to eat even if it is made with canned fruit.
Below are some of the recipe cards from section 1-13. These represent some of my favorite recipes from the first third of the box. Admittedly, I have not cooked any of these recipes. They are just some that I found interesting.
All of these cards are under the copyright of the Meredith Corporation. I do not claim to have copyright over these images, but the commentary is my own. If you’re interested in learning more about these recipes, I recommend finding a copy of the Better Homes and Gardens Recipe Card Collection. I purchased mine from eBay and there are quite a few still available there and on etsy. The Better Homes and Gardens website and magazines are a great repository of information. It’s well worth picking up an issue or subscription if you are so inclined.
With the temperature of my kitchen running in the mid-to-high 90s, I have been taking a hiatus from the podcast for a few weeks. Until the temperature breaks and it’s cool enough to start up season 2, I decided to start posting reviews of some of my many cookbooks. With the help of my siblings, I have collected over 150 cookbooks/pamphlets/recipe card indexes and my collection continues to grow. At the current rate, it will take 3-4 years to discuss all of these books, so I figured that I could do reviews of the books between episodes.
I’m going to start with a relatively recent acquisition: Kmart Klassics. This pamphlet was purchased at a St. Vincent de Paul thrift store in Wisconsin by my sister April for only $1.00. It is an 80-page pamphlet published by The K-Mart Good News Cookbook Committee in the mid-1980s. The pages are the size of a half-sheet of paper and it is held together with plastic comb binding. This style of cookbook was popular as a fundraiser because it could be inexpensively assembled in large quantities, and it has the added bonus that it lays flat on a counter or cookbook stand.
As context for those who haven’t had the pleasure of visiting one, K-Mart is the third largest discount chain store in North America after Walmart and Target. Its wares include standard household items: small/medium kitchen appliances, some furniture, clothing, baby items, health & beauty, linens, shoes, electronics, packaged food, etc.
The pamphlet Kmart Klassics (which is dangerously close to having too many K’s in its title) was assembled by The K-Mart Good News Committee of Racine, WI in the mid-1980s. The committee was made up of Deb Stublaski, Michelle Sadowski, Joyce Dockey, Cheryl Langel, and Nancy Smith. The book describes The K-Mart Good News Committee as “a national organization of volunteer K-Mart employees who are actively involved in year-round out-reach programs in the communities surrounding their K-Mart stores.” The programs were recognized by Ronald Reagan for their work. At the time the cookbook was created, each K-Mart had the opportunity to create their own committee which raised funds to help local organizations. The Good News Committee of Racine, WI fundraised with bake sales, bowl-a-tons, and other activities. They raised money for the United Way and helped a local family raise money to get a van with a wheelchair lift. It seems as though these store volunteer groups have mostly died off. I was able to find a few references to Good News Committees using a Google News search but most were from my mid-1990s.
As is typical for this type of fundraising cookbook, the recipes were submitted by the community and curated by the K-Mart Good News Cookbook Committee. The names of the people who submitted the recipes are included following the individual recipes but no additional information is given. In other examples of these books, the neighborhood or city of the contributor was included, but in this book they were not, which leads me to believe that they were either people from Racine, WI or (more likely) employees from that K-Mart store.
The book is organized into seven sections: appetizers; bread, rolls, pastries; meats, seafood, main dishes; cakes, cookies, desserts; soup, salads, vegetables; candy, jelly, preserves; beverages, miscellaneous. Each of these sections are divided by a sky blue page with the section name on the front and some tips on the back. For example, the appetizers section has a list of simple appetizers which don’t need recipes like lobster tail moistened with lemon juice and sardine slices topped with chopped olives. The meats section divider has a roasting guide on the back, and the candy/jelly/preserves section has a guide for temperature tests for candy making. The pamphlet also includes a handy index divided by section and organized by page number rather than in alphabetical order.
The recipes are delightfully 1980s and charmingly Midwestern. There are 27 different casseroles of various types (some are not called casseroles, but fall into the category by dint of the cooking method and ingredients – slow cooked in an oven and containing starch, vegetable, and protein). Many of the recipes are also combinations of processed foods. Canned soup, cake mix, Jello pudding/gelatin desserts, mini-marshmallows, and Cool Whip all make multiple appearances.
My favorite part of the pamphlet is the “Favorite Recipes” page at the beginning of the book. On this page, the home cook can list the recipes that they particularly enjoy along with the page number upon which the recipe can be found. Unlike many of the books that I’ve seen with this feature, each line is lovingly filled with a slightly shaky cursive that reminds me of my grandmother’s writing in her later years.
The previous owner’s favorite recipes were heavy on desserts and sweet salads, including Heavenly fruit salad, grasshopper pie, peanut butter torte, pistachio salad, puppy chow, millionaire’s salad, poppy seed torte, crème de menthe cake, and banana bread. On the savory side, she liked potato soup, Nancy’s French dressing, cole slaw, baked beans, easy freezer pickles, and bread stuffing.
The heavenly fruit salad was apparently a special favorite of the cookbook’s previous owner as the page was marked with an old receipt with “Heavenly Fruit Salad” written on the top (none of the ingredients were purchased as part of the transaction on the receipt, unfortunately). This salad combines lemon Jello pudding, fruit cocktail, pineapple tidbits, mini-marshmallows, and whipped cream or Cool Whip.
Below are some other pages from this cookbook. You can see the name of the person who submitted each recipe under the individual recipes. If anyone reading this happens to know any of these people, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com. I’d love to hear more about the cookbook.
In this episode, we explore the history of Spam while making Spam Upside Down Pie. This episode also takes a look into why it’s so popular in the Philippines, Hawaii, and Korea.
Ty Matejowsky. SPAM and Fast-food “Glocalization” in the Philippines. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.2752/155280107780154088
CBS News. As Food Prices Soar, So Do Sales Of Spam. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/as-food-prices-soar-so-do-sales-of-spam/
Erin DeJesus. A Brief History of Spam, an American Meat Icon http://www.eater.com/2014/7/9/6191681/a-brief-history-of-spam-an-american-meat-icon
Gothamist. Spam is making a comeback at hip NYC restaurants. http://gothamist.com/2014/04/01/spam_brooklyn_hipsters.php
Lucy Williamson. Why is Spam a luxury food in South Korea? http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-24140705
Rachel Laudan The Food of Paradise: Exploring Hawaii’s Culinary Heritage https://www.amazon.com/Food-Paradise-Exploring-Culinary-Heritage/dp/0824817788
Spam Website: http://www.spam.com/
The Hormel Website: http://www.hormelfoods.com/
The SPAM Man. New Yorker Magazine: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1945/08/11/spam-man
References for this episode:
The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse (1747) – Available from Archive.org
The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer (1931 facsimile edition) – Amazon.com link
The American Woman’s Cook Book (1939) by Ruth Berolzheimer – Amazon.com link
A Social History of Jell-O Salad: The Rise and Fall of an American Icon by Sarah Grey. http://www.seriouseats.com/2015/08/history-of-jell-o-salad.html
Jiggle It: The History of Gelatins, Aspics and Jellies by Nate Barksdale http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/jiggle-it-the-history-of-gelatins-aspics-and-jellies
In this episode, I make two recipes from The 2-in-1 International Recipe Card Collection published by Random House in 1977. On the front side of the cards in this collection, there are recipes for mixed drinks and on the back there are recipes for hors d’oeuvres. I’ll be using recipe card number 208 which is in the rum section. This card has three recipes, but I’m only going to make two: the banana daiquiri from the front of the card and bananamole from the back. While preparing my ingredients, I talk about the history of the Cavendish banana and some of the issues with the global demand for this particular variety.